Mixology – Watercolor Palettes, Part 2


Last time, we talked about the importance of avoiding pan pollution to retain the brilliant and transparent essence of watercolors. So, where can you make your mess, then?

Although it seems there is a never ending variety of colors available, artists always want more, and any color they could ever desire, can be mixed from other colors. Some purists actually challenge themselves to mix everything they need from just three primaries. They are much more disciplined than I am.

I want as many colors as I can get my hands on – and then I want to mix more. (The term for this is “color-oinkie”).

There are three possibilities for the mixing of colors.

One, you will never do, and that is to mix new colors in the color wells. We talked about that disaster last time.

The second possibility is to mix your colors right on the paper – adding one wet color into another (still-wet) color and allowing the blending to happen – with a little guidance from you if you’re quick and lucky. This works wonderfully well for many, but not all, situations. It is only somewhat predictable and controllable because watercolor has a mind of its own when wet.

The third possibility is to mix your color on a palette, so you know what you’ve got before you take it to the paper.

So there is a second section to most water color palettes – the mixing wells.


They are often in the cover of a palette box, or sometimes adjacent to the paint pans. The palette above has abundant mixing space, so I use some of it for adding extra paint pans. (More about that next time.)

The idea is to wet the color in the pans enough to be able to pick up paint with your brush and deliver it to the mixing well surface. Then you clean your brush, pick-up your second color and mix it into the puddle you made with the first color.

Since most of us are working in sketchbooks and journals, we are lucky that a little mixed paint goes a long way. We don’t need buckets of washes – just a little is all.


I have had the green mix above for a few weeks already in my mixing well. It just dries in place, and is easily re-wet whenever I need a little.

Note that in this case, I did not thoroughly mix my yellow and green to an even color. This allows me to pick up any one of a range of yellow-greens to make subtle additions to my painting. I use this technique often when painting realistic flowers – where subtlety is paramount. If I had been aiming for a yellow-green I could lay down in an even wash, I would have kept “stirring” until it was all an even tone.

You will be shocked at how far this much paint will stretch when you use highly pigmented, artist grade watercolors. It’s like the loaves and fishes thing.

The red spot above represents a slightly different take. There is only one color there. I bring some to the mixing area to mix with water. I can keep mixing until I have an even toned wash of that color – at whatever value I choose. Or, as in this case, I can keep it uneven and pick up lighter or darker values of the color as needed. This is much easier than trying to guess how much pigment you are actually picking up when getting the paint directly from the pan.

Smaller paint sets have limited mixing areas, and there are many types of extra mixing palettes available.

The least expensive are these plastic ones – available for a dollar at most art and craft stores.


They weigh nothing and tuck easily into any journal bag or art kit. They are easy to clean under running water, but they do stain, and nothing removes the stain. I have even soaked these in bleach. The good news is that if the stain won’t come off with bleach, you don’t have to worry about it polluting your future color mixes.

Better than plastic for a couple of reasons, porcelain palettes are also available, but they are heavy and very expensive – if you buy them at the art supply store . . .


However, if you buy them at the Bead store instead, (they are used for sorting beads) one like this is only about $6.

The benefit is that watercolor does not stain them. I am still trying to figure out what I put in the middle of this one that left those lines, but it wasn’t watercolor. Another plus is the weight. These mixing palettes are heavy enough that they don’t slide around when you are a bit enthusiastic jumping in there with your brush. However, that same weight is a minus when it comes to your portable kit. I leave these at home.

Here’s another inexpensive porcelain palette source –  Sushi dipping dishes or plates. These were on sale at Pier One for 99¢. I was with my Mom. She has a *need* to buy *anything* that’s on sale for *only* 99¢, so she said, “Can’t you find something useful to do with these, honey?”


No matter how many mixing palettes you have, eventually, you are going to fill them up, and it will be time to clean them.

The free standing ones can be soaked, cleaned at the sink under running water, or even put through the dishwasher.

But what about the ones attached to your paint pans? Not so good if they go through the dishwasher!

I have heard all kinds of elaborate approaches to cleaning these – including removing or taping over the paint pans, unhinging the palette cover, etc. Some palettes even offer removable mixing wells as a selling feature.

But it’s funny how easy something becomes when you just move over a bit, and look at the problem from another direction. I did that and came up with fastest, easiest cleaning trick ever.

Most watercolor artists keep a little spray bottle of water around for wetting their paint pans.

I cover the paint pans in my palette with a piece of paper when I am going to clean the mixing wells, but you wouldn’t have to.

I mist the ‘dirty” wells with the spray bottle and let them sit for a few minutes . . .


Then a simple swipe with paper towel wipes the area totally clean . . .


and you get to start all over again. No muss, no fuss.

In our next segment, we will talk all about choosing the best watercolor palette for your style, how to expand the capacity, and I’ll share my favorites.


You wonder what I have been up to? Some really fun stuff that I will be launching very soon . . .

Inner Child Coloring Company

Everyone knows that coloring is becoming a REALLY popular thing. I always loved to color. I still do – even if I am coloring “painting” my own pictures.

You can be a coloring artist without knowing how to draw, and actually be learning to paint in the meantime. It’s a wonderful thing – available to tickle anyones’s creative fancy.

Two issues I see with the current trend is that all the coloring books seem to be of the detailed design variety. This is fine, but it’s very time consuming to finish even one page (I know it’s calming and mindful, but some folks would like a little faster gratification!) And the other thing is that coloring books must be printed on compromised paper – best for only dry media and markers. Just the nature of the beast that good art and watercolor paper is too expensive for making commercial books. I know all about these things because I brokered printing for many years.

SO . . . my Inner Child Coloring Company will publish Coloring Cards – printed on wonderful watercolor paper, framable in standard frames and mats, AND the pictures to color will remind you more of your childhood coloring books – more simple illustrations of more simple subjects. That way, you may be able to color and send a card in time for the event! Or you can gift a friend with a set of cards and markers or paints, and they can have the coloring fun.

I have been working on this for months, and the first cards went into my gallery yesterday. The website will launch in about a week, and we will be off and running – and coloring!

Girlfriend Getaway Art Retreats (Build Your Own)

Some of you know that I have a stunning vacation rental property here in Santa Fe, called Casa Artista (House of the Artist). If you don’t know, here it is:


In 2016, I will offer “build your own” retreats. Sorta like build-your-own omelettes or burgers – only bigger.

The idea goes like this:

A four night retreat with two workshop days will have a set price (currently looks like $2000 + tax).

You pick 1-3 friends (up to 5 if you have girlfriends who will share a queen bed,) but many people won’t, so let’s say there are 4 of you to split that cost.

Now, we’re talking $500 each for this:

Check-in Thursday late afternoon, and check out on Monday. (Extra nights can be added for $200/night – subject to availability)

4 Nights lodging in a gorgeous house with all 5 Star reviews from its guests. You girlfriends fight over who gets which room.

One happy hour arrival party, and two lunches during workshop days. Fully equipped kitchen for the rest of the time.

Two day workshop of your choice – chosen from an offered menu, and taught by yours truly. Workshops will be held right there at the Casa, but I will be staying at my own home, so there is more room for you and your friends.

All supplies necessary for the workshop. Workshop choices will be things like Handmade Books, Watercolor, Advanced Coloring, iPad Art Journaling, Santa Fe Sketchbooking, Photography, and such. You and your girlfriends will choose which.

A free day for Santa Fe exploration, shopping etc. – guided or not – your choice. 10% discount at WOW! Gallery on any purchases, as we offer all our guests.

Dates of your long week-end are your choice – anytime the Casa is not booked in 2016. At this moment, our last tenant checks out on January 2, 2016, and everything after that is currently available. That changes daily, however. Once your dates are booked, no one else can takes them.

Just  a $500 deposit will reserve and hold your getaway retreat – which will be refundable up to 60 days before check-in.

Again, I will be officially launching this in a week or two. Meanwhile, if you want to jump the gun for some week-end (and I know some of you have already mentioned your interest), email me (intructor@cre8it.com), and I will put you on a pre-reserve list, and hold your dates.

So, yes, I have been busy. Creating this retreat house was my first huge project after healing that hip fracture enough to at least hobble around! I LOVE being there, and right away, I knew I wanted to share some great creative times there – with you!





  1. Will you notify us when the inner cild coloring cards are available??? Waiting anxiously

  2. A good way to remove stains from plastic palettes is to rub them with a little toothpaste. Then remove it with a wet paper towel. Toothpaste removes also any smells or mold spores from your palette ( if any).

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